In an official statement on COVID-19 updates and the lifting of lockdown restrictions, Johnson confirmed the decision to investigate the initial government response to the pandemic.
He added that Westminster was in talks with the leaders of Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland to set the terms of the inquiry.
"Amid such tragedy the state has an obligation to examine its actions as rigorously and as candidly as possible and to learn every lesson for the future, which is why I've always said that when the time is right there should be a full and independent inquiry. So, I can confirm today that the government will establish an independent public inquiry on a statutory basis with full powers under the Inquiries Act of 2005", Johnson told Parliament.
The right moment for the inquiry, according to the PM, is spring 2022.
Johnson suggested that if the nation was to recover as "One Team UK", it must also learn lessons together through a process that "will place the state's actions under the microscope".
The prime minister also warned that the end of the lockdown did not mean the end of COVID-19, as the threat of new variants remained, with a "high likelihood of a surge this winter".
The leader of the opposition, Labour's Keir Starmer, welcomed the PM's commitment to a transparent inquiry, but questioned its timeframe. Starmer asked why the inquiry won’t be starting earlier and advised the government to not only consult the devolved leadership, but also the bereaved families as well as NHS workers.
Johnson retorted by calling it "the right timing" and argued against dedicating "huge amounts of public health workers' time to an inquiry when they very well may still be in the middle of the pandemic".
Scottish National Party MP Allan Brown criticised the government for failing to control the borders and delaying the lockdown, and asked the PM if the inquiry was “going to have to look at the original decision making process”.
He also questioned whether the inquiry would look into the “electronic communications between government ministers and their Tory chums who got contracts" to supply PPE during the pandemic, referring to the appointment process of Dido Harding.
"Without accepting the premise of his questions, the inquiry will have full powers... to compel evidence”, Johnson replied.
The PM also commented on the spread of the Indian variant – B.1.617.2 – suggesting it could be “considerably more transmissible”. He added that the government is looking at all the potential solutions for spikes, such as those in Bolton and other parts of the country.
The United Kingdom has seen a rapid increase in the detection of the lineage B.1.617.1 and, to a greater extent, B.1.617.2, associated with travel to India and onward community transmission, as reported by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.
Britain has lost more than 127,000 people to COVID-19 and has been under one of the world’s strictest national lockdowns since the beginning of the pandemic.
The UK government has been widely criticised since the onset of the crisis in 2020 for failing to take appropriate measures in time, leading to a greater loss of life.